Matteo Renzi can’t take yes for an answer from Brussels.
Click Here: All Blacks Rugby Jersey
For months leading up to the December 4 constitutional referendum, the Italian prime minister has worked hard to pick numerous fights with the EU, whether on his plans to bail out Italy’s banks, run up the budget deficit or deal with the migration crisis. Brussels is a convenient scapegoat for many European politicians, especially one who’s fighting to save his political career in an increasingly Euroskeptic country.
Here’s the problem for Rome: Brussels refuses to play along. In August, as Renzi requested, the EU cleared the path for Italy’s plan to save Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena, the world’s oldest bank, without following the usual EU handbook on bank rescues. And last week, just as Renzi blamed German-style austerity imposed by Brussels for Italy’s weak economy, the European Commission gave his government extra wiggle room on his budget and even called on the Germans to spend more freely themselves (to wails of complaint from Berlin).
The EU may think it’s doing Renzi a favor. After Brexit and Trump, and elections due in Germany and France next year, Brussels wants to avoid political instability in another big country. If Renzi loses next month, as polls indicate, he’ll likely step down and call early elections. The anti-establishment 5Star movement, which is neck and neck with Renzi’s Democrats, is demanding a referendum on the euro.
So Brussels bends — to Rome’s consternation. While all this EU accommodationism makes it hard for the Renzi government to paint the EU in hostile colors, they keep at it.
Following the lenient budget decision on Wednesday, Italy’s deputy foreign minister, Mario Giro, acknowledged no debt of gratitude. Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker “would have the political status to be politically braver,” he groused in an interview with POLITICO, “but it seems that in this moment is too caught in the German web.”
That’s an audacious claim to stand up. In reviewing the eurozone country’s fiscal plans, as is its duty under the Maastricht Treaty that created the single currency, the Commission last week noted that Rome’s plans for a wider budget deficit put it “at risk of non-compliance with the provisions of the stability and growth pact.” But it added that there’s lots of room for flexibility with all the costs Italy faces to rebuild after recent earthquakes and deal with the ongoing migration crisis. Brussels’ final opinion won’t come until after the December referendum.
The Commission also embraced a more Keynesian approach that ought to have pleased Renzi: It pushed Germany and the Netherlands to spend more as it pledged to pursue a “positive fiscal stance” for the eurozone. The Commission denied it was bending to pressure, but the Italian leader has been loudest in arguing that Berlin must invest more to boost European economic growth.
Renzi didn’t seem to appreciate the gesture. Early on Thursday morning, Italy abstained in protest from approval of the 2017 EU budget, arguing that money for migration is not enough — the proposed budget includes almost €6 billion extra for migration and security.
Italy is now threatening to block the multi-annual EU budget for 2014-2020. “We are ready for any kind of intervention, including a veto,” Renzi said.
The arrival of new migrants to Italy has shot up almost 20 percent compared to last year, reaching close to 170,000 people in November, according to the Italian interior ministry. The EU is helping Italy relocate about 40,000 refugees, but that’s going too slowly for Renzi’s political needs.
The Italian prime minister has tried to pick a bigger fight with the EU countries, most loudly from the eastern half of the Continent, who are refusing to sign up to the EU’s forced relocation of refugees. “If the Eastern [European EU] countries who are growing with the help of our money do not open their doors to migrants as has been agreed, then we’ll put a veto on the future European budget,” Renzi told a rally in October.
The notes of desperation are easy to understand. The latest polls on Friday showed Renzi would lose the referendum to push through constitutional changes to make Italian governments more stable — though 15 percent of voters say they remain undecided.
It’s unusual for the EU to become a political piñata in traditionally Europhilic Italy. But opinion shifted with the adoption of the euro in 2002, which has been blamed for economic stagnation. Since 2007, when the financial crisis came to the boil in Europe, industrial production in Italy is down by almost a quarter.
Analysts say Italians see the complicated constitutional reform proposed by Renzi as irrelevant to what they care most about — their economic prospectives. The migration crisis adds to their anger. A no to the reform is seen as a protest vote.
Renzi has stepped up the EU bashing in particular to lure a potentially important swing vote, the center-right electorate of former Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi who respond well to Euroskeptic appeals.
Europe’s conciliatory approach to Renzi makes it harder for this line to stick. “What [Renzi] needs is Juncker saying that he’s not giving Italy any help for the earthquakes or for migrants,” joked one Italian official.